Highway heroes honored as search continues for others who helped in fiery crash

Devin Benson was rescued by Kelly Pestana (right) and a number of others.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — They saw flames and smelled gasoline, but kept running toward the car.

Inside, Devin Benson was unconscious.

The flames recorded by an eyewitnesses video were a frightening reminder of what might’ve happened, as the car ignited in the route 95 median near Foxboro, about two minutes after Benson was pulled from the driver’s seat.

Rhode Island College Social Work Major Kelly Pestana was driving about two or three cars behind Benson, who had come home from college in Florida in September to avoid Hurricane Irma.

“When he went in the woods, all you see is dirt come flying out,” Pestana said.

Her friend, Computer Science Major Karl Ong was in the passenger seat.

“I pulled out my cell phone and called 9-1-1,” Ong said.

They were on their way to a concert when Benson’s tire blew as he was driving to a Boston baseball game.

Benson’s dad Richard doesn’t like to think about what might’ve happened if the two heroes from RIC kept driving, like so many others did.

“It was a horrific scene with a heroic ending,” Benson said.

Ong said it was an easy decision to make, even if it was dangerous.

“You have a choice right there and then,” he said. “Either you try your best to get him out or you live with that conscience you just left someone there to die. So, at that point, I didn’t even think about the gasoline or the fire.”

Pestana agreed.

“What was going through my mind was, I could tell he was a young kid,” Pestana said. “And I didn’t want to just leave him there and wait for someone else to come and help him. If I didn’t help him and something sad happened, how would his family feel?”

So, they teamed up with a painter from Cranston, a pair of unknown, off-duty EMT’s, an off-duty nurse and an unknown hero in a Chrysler

“The mystery man,” Pestana said with a smile, referring to a nickname created by Devin’s dad.

All they remember is he was athletically built, had a nice smile, was very helpful and he was black.

After Devin was safe, he high-fived everyone, and said, “Well, we saved a life today.”  Then, he got in his car and he left.

On Thursday, RIC President Frank Sanchez awarded the two students with a commendation, saying they are great examples of what RIC strives for as an institution.

“Karl and Kelly truly embody the mission of the college, in serving as a force for positive change,” Sanchez said as he handed them the awards.

And an example of how strangers from different backgrounds came together with one goal.

“It just shows that your beliefs, values, anything along that line,” Pestana said.”It doesn’t matter when somebody needs help.”

“If you’re black, white, Asian or Spanish,” Ong added. “It didn’t come to mind what we were. We came as one and said we need to help this kid out because it’s a life.”

But the search continues for the other heroes and everyone involved would love this story to be shared to potentially help find them.

Email Walt at wbuteau@wpri.com with your story ideas and follow us on Twitter: @StreetStories12 and @wbuteau.